Aaron and Andrew Harrison are not the norm in college hoops recruiting.
For starters, they are twins. More important than that, though, is that they're twins who also happen to be really, really good -- Andrew is the top point guard in the class of 2013, Aaron the top shooting guard, and both rank among the top five players overall in the ESPN 100.
Even more unusual? Their recruitment has long been referred to as a package deal. They'll be playing together in 2013-14. And whatever program is lucky enough to land them will immediately have one of the best and most familiar backcourts -- the basketball version of Henrik and Daneil Sedin -- in the country.
Which is what makes their decision -- which will be announced live on ESPNU Thursday at 5 p.m. ET -- such an important one for the two programs still in the running: Kentucky and Maryland.
One of those names is obvious and wholly expected. Under John Calipari, Kentucky has become the nation's most consistent elite recruiting force, able to pick and choose from the best players in the country in any given class. But Maryland? How did Maryland -- which is just beginning to turn around under coach Mark Turgeon -- stay involved in twins' recruitment for so long?
The answer, as USA Today's Eric Prisbell writes Wednesday, is a combination of two things: (1) The twins' father, Aaron Harrison Sr., is a Maryland native who has a longtime friendship with UM assistant Bino Ranson and has great respect for Turgeon, who has been recruiting the twins for years and (2) the unique access and brand loyalty the twins have cultivated with Under Armour -- a suddenly rising force in the grassroots college recruiting scene. From Eric:
Harrison Sr., said that until September even the college coaches courting his sons had to go through dad first. One exception: Chris Hightower, in charge of basketball marketing at Under Armour.
"He is my saving grace that there are some upright, straight, humane people in the basketball business," Harrison Sr. said. "He is the one guy who can call Aaron and Andrew.
"They text him, 'Hey, Chris, appreciate what you sent us, thanks a lot. Hey, Chris, do you have a black hoodie? Does Under Armour make this or that?' He will text them, 'Great game I saw on TV.' "
Those kinds of plaudits speak to how well Hightower and Under Armour have handled their relationship with Harrison, Sr., who spends much of his time in Prisbell's story shaking his head at the sketchy nature of college basketball recruiting. A used-car salesman by trade, Harrison Sr. calls the basketball business "25 times worse than the used-car business," that it "blows my mind what people try to do or that people think it's OK and they'll tell you things and you fall for."
That Harrison Sr. would openly acknowledge such a close relationship with a shoe-company rep -- one who also "is a member of the team of Under Armour employees who service and support the University of Maryland all-sports apparel contract," according to a school statement -- is a sign of how well Hightower has managed to massage the relationship in the years since the Harrison twins became a hot hoops commodity.
It is also a sign of the future. Under Armour, which was founded by Maryland alumnus and current CEO Kevin Plank, has hardly been shy about its desire to make Maryland the Oregon of the East. But wacky football uniforms and apparel sponsorships only go so far. Now, UA is turning its attentions to the place where Nike and adidas have been so successful the past two decades: grassroots basketball. And so far, it seems to be going well.
[Update: ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep has an excellent breakdown on the Harrison twins recruitment available (to Insiders) right here.]